Tuesday 19 January 2016

Austral Harmony - Harmonische Freude

Harmonische Freude - Austral Harmony
Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Ludwig Krebs, Gottfried August Homilus, Christian Gotthilf Tag, George Friedrich Kauffmann; Austral Harmony; Chandos Chaconne
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 17 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Bach and his contemporaries in the intriguing combination of organ, trumpet and oboe

This disc looks rather unlikely at first sight: Harmonische Freude - Works for Baroque Oboe, Trumpet and Chamber Music. But Austral Harmony (Jane Downer, Simon Desbruslais and Peter Hagen) are exploring little known but recognise territory. During the baroque period there was a fashion for mixing instruments and organ and even hiding the instrumentalist so that the audience/congregation heard the instrument as part of the organ. So on this disc on the Chandos Chaconne label we get music by Johann Sebastian Bach along with his contemporaries Johann Ludwig Krebs (1713-1780), Gottfried August Homilus (1714-1783), Christian Gotthilf Tag (1735-1811) and George Friedrich Kauffmann (1679-1733) for organ plus instruments

Much of the music is chorale based, the added instruments were often used to play the chorale melody against the organ's elaborations. In fact, we should think of them as hymns rather than staid chorales and one of the animating features of the performance is the attempt to recreate the sense of joy that the music was intended to bring.

The composers featured on the disc are, apart from the great JSB, all relatively unknown. Johann Ludwig Krebs started out as one of Bach's most notable pupils at the Thomasschule in Leipzig, achieving employment as organist in Zwickau and ending up as organist at the Scholosskirche of the court of Prince Friedrich II of Saxe-Gotha Altenburg. Gottfried August Homilius also received instruction from Bach in Leipzig and later worked in Dresden becoming director of music at the three main churches. Christian Gotthilf Tag was a pupil of Homilius, studying in Dresden, and ending up working in Hohenstein. Georg Friedrich Kauffman's connection to Bach was more tenuous. He was court and cathedral organist in Merseburg and was the first choice for the position of Kapellmeister in Leipzig when Bach eventually got the job.

One of the fascinating things about the disc is the selection of trumpets played by Simon Desbruslais, as he flexibly moves between a number of different types. Not only two different natural trumpets, but a slide trumpet (which he specially engineered for the recording with the help of Joel Raymond) and a modern valve trumpet thus giving us the chance to compare and contrast. Personally I loved the highly characterful sound of the slide trumpet best, but it was lovely to compare the differences.

The choral preludes here are based on tunes which would have been common and popular in their day, and so we get four different choral preludes in Jesu meine Freude,  and other tunes reoccur to our aural delight. The final one being the lovely Wie schoen leuchter der Morgenstern, which is played with poise by Simon Desbruslais on a modern trumpet.

Whilst the choral prelude is the most common type of piece on the disc, the works on the disc cover an interesting range of styles as we hear music in transition. Included on the disc is Gottfried Homilius's Sonata for Oboe, definitely a work which is exploring the changes happening in music looking towards the galant style. Whilst Bach's Organ Trio III  from his early years in Leipzig is from a highly admired group of works and is here played with the top line given to the oboe.

Austral Harmony is in fact an Australian group (the name comes from an early collection of Australian poetry) though the recording was made in the UK and trumpeter Simon Desbruslais is British. With Peter Hagen playing a chamber organ and Jane Downer a modern reconstruction of an 18th century oboe, the three performers produce a lovely blend of highly sophisticated chamber music and make us really think that these three instruments were made to be together. Hagen gets some solo moments, playing Krebs Fantasia, Praeambulum supra 'Jesu, meine Freude, and Chroale prelude 'Jesu, meine Freude', alio modo whilst a number of the pieces are just for organ and oboe, and for two Krebs Chorale Prelude 'Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein' and Bach's Chorale Prelude 'Jesu, meine Freude', BWV 713a Jane Downer moves to oboe d'amore.

I rather enjoy records which enable us to fill in the some background behind great figures, and when the composer is JS Bach then he does rather tend to loom so strongly that everyone else is eclipsed. This disc not only introduces us to the fascinating world of organ plus instruments, but enables us to hear music by Bach's pupils, younger contemporaries and colleagues. But more than that, it makes a lovely satisfying musical programme.

Johann Ludwig Krebs (1713-1780) - Fantasia on the chorale Wachet auf
Johann Ludwig Krebs (1713-1780) - Praeambulum supra 'Jesu, meine Freude'
Johann Ludwig Krebs (1713-1780) - Chorale Prelude 'Jesu, meine Freude'
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) - Chorale Prelude 'Jesu, meine Freude', BWV 713a
Johann Ludwig Krebs - Chorale Prelude 'Jesu, meine Freude', alio modo
Gottfried August Homilius (1714-1785) - Chorale Prelude 'Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gemein'
Gottfried August Homilius (1714-1785) - Sonata à Oboe Solo col Basso
Johann Ludwig Krebs - Chorale Prelude 'Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein'
Christian Gotthilf Tag (1735-1811) - Chorale Prelude 'Nun danket alle Gott'
Johann Sebastian Bach - Organ Trio III, BWV 527
Georg Friedrich Kauffmann (1679-1735) - Chorale Prelude 'Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein'
Johann Ludwig Krebs - Fantasia
Georg Friedrich Kauffmann - Chorale Prelude 'Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ'
Georg Friedrich Kauffmann - Chorale Prelude 'Wie schon leuchtet der Morgenstern'
Austral Harmony (Jane Downer - oboe/oboe d'amore, Simon Desbruslais - trumpets, Peter Hagen - chamber organ)
Recorded St Andrew’s Church, Toddington, Gloucestershire, 20-22 June 2014

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